March: Into isolation

I am actually typing this a close to a month after the last update, realizing that this month of chaos has been one I entirely missed on the blog. To be fair, the world right now does not look the way it did a month ago.

At the start of the week of March 9th, the spread of COVID-19 was starting to make real ripples in the world.  We weren’t in lockdown then, but that week was when we started to really think about it.  By the end of the week, Sarah and I managed a pretty intensive grocery run, figuring we weren’t going to want to get out to the stores again for a while.  That Saturday, the 14th, we had a gathering with volunteers from CVG.  We were in the same room, but there were fewer hugs, no handshakes, and a palpable difference in people’s body language as we got used to stepping one more pace back from each other.  We didn’t, then, know anyone who was sick.  We figured the world would have to go a little quieter, that people wouldn’t hang out as often — but not that no one would leave their homes.

Sunday the 15th, Sarah and I celebrated Ostara with our Clan.  We had our traditional egg hunt and the giving of chocolate.  It was also a celebration for me, because Friday the 13th had been my last day at the previous job and I was taking a week off before embarking on a new phase in my career.  We played games until 11pm-ish, glad for the big dishes of food and company.  But even then, we were still talking about seeing each other sometimes.  Not often, but sometimes.

Monday the 16th, Sarah changed her mind, the of us to really declare a full lockdown.  She asked me to cancel all hanging with people, and pretty much forbid me from running errands or doing other tasks that might put me into contact with others.  She worries because she knows I’m vulnerable.  We took off in the car to deliver Ostara chocolates to those who hadn’t been able to come, and we spent a little time wandering around Northfield because we were there anyway.  But we felt a little bit like we were the odd ones out.  After all, kids were still going to be in school for a day or two, and the distancing was more voluntary than necessary.

That whole week went by in a blur, partly because we both got hit with absolutely horrific seasonal allergies, and partly because the news in the world was rapidly worsening on every front.  The common areas in the condo closed, cutting off access to our pool and workout room.  Schools in MN shut down, ostensibly for a longer spring break, but the rumblings of something more permanent were present.  By the weekend, March 22nd was supposed to be a ConCom meeting and instead it turned into a series of video calls because everyone who wasn’t “essential” was staying home with almost no exceptions.  Runs for food and basic necessities still happened, but most people had not set foot out of their homes for days, Sarah and I included.

That’s also the point when I started to recognize the effect of isolation on myself and took to ranting on Twitter.  But COVID-19 cases were mounting everywhere, and I was still vulnerable, so I assured Sarah I would not break our quarantine.  We set up calls twice a week with our CVG team just to hang out virtually and keep each other company.

Then I started work at the new company, and the last full week of March vanished into a rush of learning new systems, new names, and trying to do it entirely remotely as the company (and many others) had sent everyone to work from home without exception.  The economy was suffering hard, and all indications were that things were getting worse, not better.  Deaths were piling up, and hospitals were out of PPE.  People were sewing masks out of t-shirts.  Unemployment shot up.  Fox News quit lying about the pandemic.

Sarah and I started trying to do something musical or meditative every other day or so, trying to keep ourselves balanced and positive in a world sliding down an exponential curve to hell.  I wrote a new translation for a cover of “Diamond Crevasse” from Macross Frontier; Sarah is still mixing/balancing the tracks before we put in a visual aspect and post it online.  I started a oneshot on my list from years ago.  I got my first paycheck, but the company also took a hit.  I realized I was going through cycles of not sleeping 3-5 nights, then sleeping well for 2-3 with no appreciation for which nights were in front of workdays instead of weekends.

And now here we are.  March has ended, and April begins with the world fully in the grip of COVID-19.  We haven’t hugged anyone but each other since March 16th.  Haven’t spoken to someone in person other than the security guy in the building when picking up packages or the chiropractor since March 18th.   Haven’t run errands, living 95% off our badass grocery run with 1 instance of delivered food, since March 14th.  We wash our hands between loads of laundry because I have to touch the machines down the hall.  We meet our CVG folks on Tuesdays and Fridays to chat, and the choir has started doing “guided rehearsals” over the internet.

People have said this is like a war, but I think it’s more akin to exactly what it is — a natural disaster.  And so I’ve been reminding myself of the Survival Rule of Three.

You can only go three minutes without oxygen.  Three hours without shelter.  Three days without water.  Three weeks without food.  But you can only go three seconds without hope.  If you lose hope, you’re lost before you’ve begun.

So I’m not always upbeat or positive.  I’m not okay, but nobody’s okay.  How could anyone be?  Most days I can manage my anxiety, push the dread and fear down.  I’m doing much better about controlling my access to social media and the increased stress that comes with reading the latest stats and knowing the current worst case.  Most days I breathe all day long, and I don’t cry.  Most days, I can even find a way to do something that makes me happy, either writing or singing or thinking about cosplay.  Most days, I’m not okay, but I’m surviving.  Most days I’m not breaking the Survival Rule of Three.

I can’t say more than that.  I can’t say it’ll get better, or I’m waiting for it to get worse.  I can’t say that I’ll be able to make it through if I get hit by a bad downswing.  There is no certainty right now.  There is only right now.

And yet, I know I’m one of the lucky ones.  Minnesota acted fast, and comprehensively.  I still have a job, and we can afford to buy the food and prescriptions we need without worrying about bills piling up.  I have a frustrating, hilarious, ever-challenging, ever-entertaining kitten to distract me and cause new problems to solve.  I am in isolation with the person I absolutely adore, the person whose presence never becomes tiresome, the person who makes me laugh no matter what, the person I trust with everything.  We aren’t sick.

And we’re still struggling.

I miss the FUCK out of the people I love.  I miss the FUCK out of hugs.  Out of hanging and watching anime.  Out of being able to cry on a shoulder, or vent, or poke somebody in the ribs.  When I get to life After COVID-19, I am NEVER going to take those moments for granted again.  I didn’t before, having been alone in life already and knowing what that feels like, but even so — it’s different.  A lot is going to be different.  Life BC-19 (Before COVID-19) and AC-19 will be alternate universes of one another.  I’m not sure in AC-19 if I’m ever going to touch anything in public ever again, if I’m ever going to be able to pick up housekeys without wanting to wash my hands before I touch anything else.

But AC-19 feels very far away.  And there’s a very real chance that, when I get there, I won’t be there with everyone who was a part of my life in BC-19.  That all of us will lose someone, maybe many someones.  That all of us will be marked, forever.  That we’ll emerge with new scars is a certainty.  How deep they’ll run, how hard it will be to heal them — only time will tell.

Until then, take care of yourselves, goddamnit.  I want you in the world when this is over.  I want you in the world with me.  Do what you have to, just survive.  Just not from this fucking coronavirus, but from the isolation and the fear and the struggle.  Be selfish if you have to.  Be kind whenever you can.  But just survive.  Hang on.  Be there to hug me someday again.

The rhythm of my footsteps crossing flatlands to your
Door have been silenced forevermore
And the distance is quite simply much to far for me to row;
It seems farther than ever before

I need you so much closer

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Only Once

I have a weird relationship with poetry. Song lyrics, yes please. Songs speak to me, not just the music, but the words and their rhythm. I stand in awe of people who can write musical poetry the way Beth Kinderman can, for example — mine always seems to come out pale and thin.

But poetry that isn’t written to be sung doesn’t often work for me. Even when I have the random urge to write it myself, I rarely read it. And then, only the poetry of a few people. I grew up on The New Kid on the Block by Jack Prelutsky the same as everybody else who read it as a kid, and I can really appreciate the work and talent needed to get such humor into those tightly-worded lines. But it was Jack Prelutsky’s set of poems in the book Ride a Purple Pelican that stuck with me. Simple verses, just a few words on each page, but telling stories that were rich and deep; I still have my original copy of the book I grew up reading.

Aside from rhymes and poems meant for kids, though, I rarely find a poem I really like, let alone a poet whose work consistently speaks to me. I can think of only four poets whose work I voluntarily read: Walt Whitman, Pablo Neruda, Federico García Lorca, and Izumi Shikibu.

I came upon Izumi Shikibu’s work entirely by accident a few years ago. I was reading fanfic, actually, and one of her poems was quoted in the story. It made an impression on me, so I dug deeper into her history and her works. She was writing in a time period before the invention of the haiku, but in the same sort of style, so the structure of her words was utterly striking even as it fit a meter I didn’t immediately understand. Japanese poetry (and song lyrics, for that matter) is stark and delicate in a way I rarely find in English, cool in the way that Latin American poetry is vibrant.

As I was reading some of her poems, I came upon this one, and knew I would never feel poetry quite the same way again:

Even if I now saw you
only once,
I would long for you
through worlds,
worlds.

It’s…so hard to describe how it makes me feel. I read the words and they echo in my soul, creating ripples of feeling that bounce and shiver, all without names. I feel it more than I understand it, and I understand it far beyond what I could ever describe. The only other single poem that has ever had such an effect on me is Pablo Neruda’s Sonnet XVII:

I do not love you as if you were salt-rose, or topaz,
or the arrow of carnations that propagate fire.
I love you as certain dark things are to be loved,
in secret, between the shadow and the soul.

I love you as the plant that never blooms
but carries in itself the light of hidden flowers;
thanks to your love a certain solid fragrance,
risen from the earth, lives darkly in my body.

I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where.
I love you straightforwardly, without complexities or pride;
so I love you because I know no other way than this:

where I does not exist, nor you,
so close that your hand on my chest is my hand,
so close that your eyes close as I fall asleep.

I took bits and pieces from Neruda’s poem and pieced them together with a lot of help from Sarah to create the first draft of “Binary.” I’m not sure you can really look at the lyrics to “Binary” and see its roots here, but this is where the seed of those lyrics was born. And for good reason — “Binary” was written for our wedding ceremony.

If I had found Izumi Shikibu’s poem first, the song born from that seed would have been quite different, and it wouldn’t have been “Binary,” but the meaning would have been the same because they all circle the same feeling place inside my heart.

So now I’ve compiled a whole bunch of Izumi Shikibu’s poems and I’m trying to piece together another song whose shape is grown from her influence. The first draft is done. It’s dense and odd and the cadence is nothing like the kind of lyrics I usually write, but it is what it needs to be. Now, as with all song-writing, the lyrics go to Sarah. I give her the raw shape, the words and sentiments, and she refines them to something far better, smoother, and certainly more musical. Hopefully this will end in a new song for Candles Enough when we next perform (probably at CONvergence 2020).

But whether or not a song and a melody ever comes from it, Izumi Shikibu’s poem sits with me still, stirring through the odd space between heartstrings and finding secret corners to illuminate. With the last two weeks of chaos and change and nervousness and elation, the poem has quieted me, brought me peace, and centered me anew.

I’m leaving my job of almost 13 years next Friday. Two nights from now I’ll stand on a stage at a fundraiser and sing. Three weeks from now I begin a new job.

But none of that prickly uncertainty can touch me. Not with these words in my mind:

Even if I now saw you
only once,
I would long for you
through worlds,
worlds.

I could go my whole life and never put 16 words (in translation) together with such beauty.

But, then, I’m not a poet, really. And those who are create their works hoping that someday, somewhere, one line or stanza or poem will shift the earth beneath the feet of someone. That their expression will become someone’s foundation, their lighthouse, their meaning.

Every songwriter wants that, too, I think.

No matter what song comes of the words of Izumi Shikibu and the inspiration I am drawing from her a thousand years late, I’m still writing it with the same hope that someone will hear it and feel. Feel what? That’s up to them. Just feel something.

I don’t know what I was meant to feel from this poem, and I still couldn’t even put it into words or gestures or anything but a helpless tempest inside to explain it, but I’m certain I’m not going to stop feeling it any time soon.

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Stepping Up

Well, last Monday was a bust because I was unexpectedly in California, and this week has been largely dominated by the same. That, and a whole lot of painting in our condo hallways which makes my brain get woozy periodically.

I’m preparing for a pretty monumental life change — leaving my company of nearly 13 years to join a startup company in a completely new industry.

My job is the one place in life I tend to show the least defiance and courage, because ultimately taking care of Sarah and making money have to come first — so I have to swallow my personality just to make it work. Or, at least, I did. But change needs to happen and it needs to happen now.

I’ve passed the point at my current position of “busy but with some downtime to take a breather” to “frustrated beyond the point that it is negatively impacting my life” and that’s usually the last sign a person needs to get out. I haven’t been really challenged in a long time, and the more that goes on, the dumber I feel. I’ve always been the sort of person to rise with the level of difficulty — maybe not to the top, but enough to balance the rising waters, anyway. I was never a straight-A+ student, but I was a comfortable A- student at least even when I took the leap from public school to private, and then from high school to college. The difficulty rose, and so did I.

By the same token, when there is no challenge to meet, I sink. And not just with work or school — everywhere. My writing has suffered, and only now am I realizing the impact my job has had upon that besides everything else. My spirits suffer when I spend most days traveling the short spectrum between annoyed and ready-to-pull-my-ribs-out-of-my-chest-with-my-bare-hands frustrated. Spending my workday drenched in mud makes it hard for me to relight the spark inside for anything else.

So I’m making a change, and a big one.

Honestly, I have no idea how this will impact my life. I’ll have to work harder than I have in years, and yet my boss is adamant that he doesn’t intend for this to take over my every waking moment — no 60 hour work weeks or working all weekends. I’ll have to be sharper, more accountable, cleverer. I’ll have to stretch and screw up and try again on a daily basis. I won’t be able to spend my workday frowning at my computer and wandering over to YouTube. I probably won’t be able to spend it writing, either.

But I haven’t spent the last however-many workdays writing in the first place because creativity dies in this morass of boredom and frustration anyway.

It’ll be an adjustment, a big one. If my workdays fill up the way I anticipate, I’m going to have to actively carve out writing time in my evenings and weekends as I haven’t for a few years. I’m going to have to be more careful about scheduling everything from a daily workout to laundry to make sure I’m putting my actual job first in a way I haven’t for the last 2 years. I may even have to get used to traveling for work a tiny bit, at least once or twice a year.

But I’m ready for this. The new company is one whose mission isn’t just “make money,” but in fact rooted in helping other people, in building a better, healthier, more respectful world. That’s something I can actually care about. I’ve never since college had a job that paid money for something I valued, something I believed in, something I could feel. I think that will help me a lot.

But even so, I have reason to worry.

We’re singing a song for this season in the TCWC whose lyrics begin with:

What is the meaning of success?
What does it mean to me?
How do I get there?
Do I have reason to be scared?
Do I?

The song ultimately answers the questions by pushing forward, the refrain being “one step, take another step, step up.” It’s encouraging, and a pretty fun song, but it does kind of gloss over the part about actually being scared. It jumps from the reasonable human reaction of fear to refusing to give up, but there’s a piece that has to be overcome in the middle there.

And, yeah. Something of this magnitude, something that is job-related so it determines if Sarah and I are okay and can afford our lives…

Yeah, I have reason to be scared.

But I read something in a fic a little while ago that has been helping me a lot:

“You’re not nervous, you’re excited.”

It’s actually a real thing — biologically, the sensation of nerves and fear is pretty similar to excitement. It’s all in our human perception that tells us if that jangling in the stomach is a happy kind of sensation or a debilitating one. And while this might not work on generalized anxiety, for me, for a certain kind of fear, it does work.

While I’ve been interviewing for this job, when I was unexpectedly brought to California to meet with the company, all along I have reminded myself that I wasn’t nervous about talking to these people or making this leap, not scared to step way outside my comfort zone — but that I was excited to try something new and learn what I could do. It’s helped more than I can say. I need the reminder pretty frequently, but it’s helped. I found myself in a conversation with the company’s founder and I wasn’t afraid and nervous and unsettled; I was eager and enthusiastic, and that wasn’t false. It was my excitement in the place where nerves had begun.

Next week, I get to find out if this works on stagefright as well.

So there are a lot of unknowns about the coming weeks and months. Nobody knows how this change will impact my writing or my life — but it can only be a good thing, because the current state is damaging. I wish I could say that being stimulated at work would lead to a new burst of creativity and I would get back to writing the way I want. But maybe it’ll be more like CVG and it’ll take spoons I need for writing instead, and my production won’t increase even though my happiness and quality of life will. I don’t know.

But I’m willing to find out. I’m willing to walk away from 13 years of stability (and frustration) for something new and unknown. I’m willing to leap and figure out the landing on the way down.

It’s one step forward. One step up. It’s going to take a lot out of me, but it may give back even more. It’s a chance worth taking and a risk worth making.

I’m not nervous. I’m excited.

And it turns out? I really am.

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Fried and crispy

I’m not quite sure what happened here. I had the 20th of January off work, and kind of forgot that it was a Monday, and I was at a convention the first few days of February so last week was spent catching up on sleep. I don’t remember why I didn’t post on January 27th. Probably I had a moderately acceptable reason. Oh well.

It’s been a weirdly long few days. Stuff has been stressful for Sarah and I both, and it seems like we only just get to catch our breaths before the next thing has to be handled. So I am, as I put it in an email, currently fried as fuck.

Therefore, even though I’m behind on entries, I’m giving myself permission to take another breath and look at the blue Minnesota sky and work on regaining some equilibrium. A little boring for anyone who actually reads this blog (all 4 of you, I think!), but you also know me in other ways and can always poke if you want actual entertainment.

Until then, have a song from cheerful anime of girls who are pop idols with magic voice power:

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Exercising (and Straining) The Brain Muscle

I’m sure this happens to other people, but it definitely happens to me — sometimes, it takes an absolutely solid smack in the metaphorical face for me to see what has been right in front of me all along. It’s human to have blindspots especially about ourselves, and I have been hit with a big one.

My writing has been lacklustre at best the last few years. 2016 was the last really good writing year I had, which is to say, the last year I made my annual goal of 300,000 words of writing. I actually killed it in 2016 with nearly 489,000. So, what happened between October in 2016 and October in 2017 that dropped my production down to 189,000? Well, two major things. First, of course, is the US election and all the changes in the world. And that has added stress, because how could it do otherwise? It’s very hard to be productive and creative when existential dread is creeping in every time you check the news.

But it has taken me until now to recognize the OTHER thing that happened in that same timeframe which has infinitely more to do with my drop in productivity.

In September of 2016, I became a Co-Head in training for CVG, and a Co-Head in truth a few months later.

It was this year’s NYE party when a friend pointed it out to me. I was lamenting to him my lack of focus writing at the end of December. I had planned to take the last 2 weeks of the month and write a chapter a day and get that new novel moving forward. Then Maia died, and all productivity vanished in a cloud of nope. And he likened it to preparing to run a marathon and taking a knee injury right before the start. He also reminded me to forgive myself for it, which I did — mourning Maia and regaining my emotional equilibrium was absolutely necessary. But he also asked me about the other things that take the same kind of effort, as in not just running the marathon, but walking to the grocery store.

And he asked me the armor-piercing question — does CVG work take the same well of energy that writing does?

I didn’t realize it, but yes. Yes it does.

The skillsets are very different. Writing largely exists in my head, plotting characters, arcs, sequences of events and emotional highs and lows, rather than communicating with others. But the kind of focus, attention to detail, and, most damningly, organization and dedication is the same. To keep with the muscle analogy, it takes the same muscle to write a story well as it takes to organize my CVG team or craft a response to a delicate matter or plan a meeting agenda. The output is different, but what I do for CVG comes from the exact same place inside me as writing.

And that is why my writing output was literally halved in 2017 and 2018. Because I could only write half as much when the other half of my energy was going to the convention. And, in 2019, when then thousand things went wrong, in order for me to maintain my responsibilities to the convention, writing dropped by the wayside completely.

It’s the kind of thing that is so painfully obvious to look at, but I simply didn’t see in myself.

Now aware, though, I can make adjustments. So this year, I’m going to do some experimenting.

In the end, I still want to have enough fic chapters in the year to update every week, because that’s who I’ve been since 2012/2013 and that’s who I want to continue to be **unless and until traditional publishing says differently. I also want to continue to hone my craft and write the many original stories populating my current to-write list which numbers 48 as of this morning. I have a lot of stories to tell, and I’m not about to quit telling them. I just need to find new ways to do it.

For now, I’m going to forgive myself my standard goal and just try to write as much as I can. If I come up short for 2021 posting, I’ll handle that problem a year from now. I’m not going to try to count chapters or pick fic projects that will line up to complete my 47 weeks in a year of posting. I’m also not going to try to force myself to make 300,000 in a year and look at my tracking sheet in despair at the gulf between what is and what “should” be. I’m just going to write.

And I’m going to try other things, too. Instead of working strictly on one work at a time, which has been my usual method, I may try rotating, writing a chapter in novel A on Monday, B on Tuesday, and C on Wednesday, breaking up the process and helping myself stay flexible rather than bogged down. It also would allow for me to move multiple things forward at a time, instead of moving nothing when I get stuck on one.

Honestly, reframing all that writing failure as not failure, but a reallocation of resources with 50% being spent on CVG instead, has done wonders for my internal stress. I am pretty good at forgiving myself for not living up to my own expectations when I remember to do so, but I don’t always keep remembering, and the guilt creeps back in. Understanding it this way, though, that I willingly give half my well of energy to CVG, which is a positive for me, means that only having half for writing is actually reasonable and fair, and I can be content with that.

Perhaps that’s all I needed, because last night I dreamed an entire novel, including character names, details, plot, critical scenes, etc. I haven’t done that in more than a year. So SOMETHING’s been shaken loose in my head, anyway.

I don’t know if shaking up my writing process, or rotating projects, or just seeing my productivity differently is ultimately going to get me to my revamped writing goals (not numerical goals, just writing something). I don’t think there’s one right way for me to achieve productivity, just a right way for right now. (For write now? Okay, I’m sorry.) I don’t know how it is for anybody else, but for me it seems that my answers come in their own time, and as long as I am willing to put the work in when I can, a path reveals itself.

Sometimes that means digging the path out by hand, with no shovel, but that’s work I’m willing to do.

Writing is always worth the effort. The stories are worth the effort. And no matter how inelegantly I got here, I can’t be sorry regardless.

So. Time to get to work. The well isn’t as full these days as it was in the past, but it still has water, and I still have a bucket in my hands. The rest is up to me.

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Into the New Year

2019 was the end of a lot of things in my life, which means 2020 can only become a beginning. I had 5 goals at the end of 2018, and of those 5, I think I managed to accomplish most of them. Getting back to writing was the great failure, but I did continue querying, get back to exercising, get more comfortable in my role as a Co-Head of Operations, and sort out the housing situation.

I did query the novel hard — more than 50 queries sent. Now the time comes to end that process. If someone chooses to pick up the book, I would be MORE THAN THRILLED, but I gave it its shot and now I need to move forward. Write the next one, begin again. If a single book that failed to gain traction was the end of my willingness to work towards publishing, I would be a poor author indeed. Writing is always about failure and trying again. Every novel is better than the last, every character stronger, every quirky use of language more deliberate. Writing is a constant process of growth, and that includes abject failure to launch. It hurts, of course it does. But it’s part of the cycle and publishing wouldn’t mean anything to me if it came easily.

On the exercise front, 2019 is the year that I came to terms with the fact that now is the opportune moment to be real about my own health. After watching heart attacks and health scares throughout my family and friends, it’s impossible for me to blithely assume that I can live as long as I want to live and be healthy, and not do anything to help it along. It’s not about body shape or size — it’s about keeping my heart young and fit, my lungs strong, my tendons loose. It’s about putting in the work now that will pay off in twenty years when things start to weaken. I’ve never been good at exercise, but I very much want to have enough time to write all my stories and be with all the people I love, and so for those things I can get on the elliptical.

2019 is also the absolute last year that Sarah and I will ever want to own and live in a house. Holy CRAP is it nice living in a condo. Seriously. Snow falls and we don’t have to think about shoveling. Windstorms arrive and there’s no need to pick up sticks. It costs more, which is a whoooole other problem, but overall, the change from house to condo has been the right one and has worked out beautifully. Plus, being downtown is amazing and I don’t think I could go back to the suburbs or a small town again if I tried. The energy of life here is great, not just nature (though having the Mississippi out my window helps with that), but of people, of ambition, of dreams, of creativity, of community — it’s so much sharper here than it ever was anywhere else I’ve lived. I can breathe up here in the sky like I never did on the ground, literally and figuratively.

We lost things, though. We lost Maia. We lost others (not friends of ours, but friends of friends, and sometimes the mourning process happens to you even if you aren’t the one grieving). I lost a lot of time and stress to personal grief about people I love who were on the edge. I lost a kind of blind faith in certain organizations. We lost a fridge to a squeaky death.

And yet, I can’t define myself and my life by what I lose. I can only define it by what I gain.

I gained a new job this year, a new perspective on city living, a new daily view out the window. I gained confidence in being a Co-Head of Operations, and gained greater trust in my team. I gained more closeness with people I love. I gained perspective on writing and how that intersects with CONvergence (post for another day). I gained a new appreciation for public transit. I gained the ability to sleep at night without worrying about noises outside. I gained the ability to run a lot farther and faster on the elliptical. I gained new music and new art on my walls and new shows/movies to watch and consider and new books to enjoy. I gained a new kitten.

This is Tadashi, adopted the weekend after Christmas at 7 months old. Because everybody needs a pause for kitties!

His current favorite pastimes include “burying” toys in the gaps between couch cushions, getting held and pet, pouncing on toes under blankets, wrestling with Kiba, aggressively licking and being licked by Kiba, eating, finding out what the humans are eating, trying to eat what the humans are eating, bonelessly napping, and purring while sleeping on feet.

So. Cute.

Anyway.

There will always be more loss and failure and disappointment on the horizon, and usually not very far off, either. Death and grief happen because life is invariably fatal, no matter how much you love someone. The world doesn’t always give you the gift you ask for, and there isn’t always a fair or soothing reason why. Bad shit happens. People disappear. Hoped for dreams fail miserably. Future paths dry up and leave you stranded.

But, for me, I can’t measure my life by those. Life is dark and light, black and gold, wrapped around one another like twin vines. Growth comes in the contrast, in the places where they meet, in the glow of like crashing against unlike. And if I spent all my time looking at everything that didn’t go my way, looking at only one side of the coin, I would miss out on so much joy. I would miss out on so much laughter. I would miss out on so much hope.

In the middle of 2019, I had a lot of stress and despair and fear, and at points I was low and scared and sad and nothing in the world seemed beautiful. And looking ahead to 2020, it doesn’t mean those feelings won’t come back, or won’t find new life in new crises. But today I can let things end with peace. Today I can look back at all that was lost and gained, and I can see the wheel turning in all those changes. Life doesn’t stop, even when we wish it would, for good or ill. Death cycles to renewal, failure to growth, despair to relief and hope.

Life is a cycle, not a circle. It is a spiral, winding ever upwards. Even when you pass over what you’ve walked before, you aren’t in the exact same place. You’re up a level. You’ve come farther, even when the stairs are familiar.

And for all the pain and sorrow and grief, there are joyful, amazing, soul-affirming things too. 2019 has ended, and so much with it. I look forward to every new beginning 2020 will bring.

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Maia

I am intentionally backdating this entry because it really belongs in 2019 and not 2020.

Sorry for disappearing like that. I really did intend to put up a few more blog posts in December. And then things went really sideways and I needed to prioritize.

Trigger warning for the end days of a beloved cat.

Sarah and I adopted Maia in June 2005. She was 1.5 years old then, born January 2004, and had been in a shelter with her kittens who had all found new homes. We brought home another cat with her, Thunder, who was about 5 at the time and had already been through one family. Maia was a tiny thing, a tortoiseshell cat mostly black and gold with a habit of interrupting any time anyone was petting Thunder, because she just wanted ALL THE PETS. She was friendly to the point of silliness, even getting stepped on regularly in her haste to greet people as they walked in the door. She also became Sarah’s couch companion, wanting to be on Sarah’s lap, on the pillow behind her, or otherwise nearby as often as possible — and when Sarah was asleep most mornings, Maia would climb onto the bed and sleep on her chest and sneeze into her face. Maia seemed to enjoy the game of getting her whole head as close to Sarah’s face as possible, including sleeping on her neck and jamming whiskers up her nose.

Maia and Thunder had a rough start, but once they sorted out their kitty hierarchy, they became good friends. They would tussle and Maia would ATTEMPT to prove her dominance, but Thunder outweighed her two to one, and would just put his heavy paw on her head and that would be that. The rest of the time, they would groom and cuddle and generally enjoy each other’s company. Thunder was more tolerant than appreciative, I think, but Maia was happy with having a kitty friend who was warm and purred at her.

In the beginning of 2015, we lost Thunder unexpectedly. He had a seizure late one night and we rushed him to a 24-hour vet clinic. By the time they assessed him, he was seizing again. By the time they were giving him the injection to put him down, he was gone.

I’ve had cats my whole life, but no loss is easy. This was the first one that hit another cat as hard as it hit me, however. Maia responded to Thunder’s death by falling into feline depression, not eating, not wanting pets, hiding in unfamiliar spots. That kind of behavior in cats can be dangerous, as stress and not eating can kill them relatively quickly.

And, the truth is that I’ve always found I move on better from the death of one pet with the introduction of another. There is no replacing the one who was lost, no filling that specific void, but a new cat changes the shape of the hole in my heart, and that makes it easier to go forward and remember them with fondness (and exasperation) rather than grief.

So, within a few weeks of losing Thunder, we brought home Kiba.

Kiba was a very different cat from Thunder. Both were big males, and Thunder had always been a little timid, but Kiba is a downright coward. Even after we finally got him to come out from under the bed, he maintained the habit of running under there any time he was startled. Or the doorbell rang. Or someone came in. Or it was a day ending in Y.

Anyway. Kiba has become our big buddy, and he’s cuddly and lovey and vocal and always wants to be where his people are. But he and Maia did not forge any kind of useful relationship. Maia, ever the submissive cat, finally was the old lady who ruled the house, and Kiba was the interloper. Their fights were legendarily noisy, though no harm ever came to either participant — they fought more for show than to cause pain. Maia would shove Kiba away if he was sitting somewhere and getting pets, and he let her, because she was the old cat with the established territory and he knew that. They got to the point that they could sit within inches of one another, but that was it. No grooming, no cuddling, and no touching except as precursor to combat.

Still, Maia’s depression was gone — apparently having a kitty companion works even when they don’t get along. And she spent the time getting even more pets, sleeping on Sarah, sneezing on phone screens, chasing Kiba, and generally enjoying her kitty life.

In the fall of 2018, Maia was diagnosed with the early stages of kidney disease. Not at all uncommon in a cat her age, in fact, and she was still active and healthy, so that mostly meant a change to a prescription food and watching her for more changes. Kiba was already on a separate prescription food, so we took to separating them overnight so they could free-feed, and so there were no loud battles while we were asleep, and everybody was fine with this arrangement.

In November, we took both cats for their annual visit, and Maia had her blood drawn to check her levels because we were starting to notice a few little changes. Not much, but we thought her thyroid might be acting up. She was starting to lose weight, and her appetite was down. We had noticed a few odd spots on the floor, but Maia already had a history of a little bit of throwing up from time to time, as cats do, and sometimes it was little more than water, so we didn’t think anything of it. Her test results were actually really normal, so we assumed all was well.

A week from that vet visit, we noticed Maia urinating on the floor. We called the vet, but they warned that incontinence was not unexpected in a cat with kidney disease, even controlled, and at her age. We started putting towels on the couch so she had something to catch the urine if she didn’t make it to the box, and set up a stool to make it easier for her to get up and down. Soon, though, she was regularly not making it at all. She also slowed down how much she was eating.

We called the vet to ask for advice, but they said that the stress of bringing her back in might do more harm than good. We were tasked with getting her to eat as much as possible to see if that might help her regain energy and thus control. In the meantime, we started her wearing kitty diapers. First cut from cloth, then newborn disposable diapers, we changed them regularly and kept her clean — and learned that it would probably have been easier to bathe and diaper a running chainsaw than Maia, who was deeply displeased by this whole process.

The diapers worked at controlling the mess, and a whole lot of laundry later our place was kitty-pee-smell-free. But it showed us a new problem — Maia wasn’t having bowel movements. We let that go a little while to make sure she was eating enough, then added Miralax to her water to try to loosen things up. She would regularly strain, but to no avail. Until SUDDENLY THERE WAS AVAIL.

Poor kitty suffered a whoooole lot of loose stool for days. No blood, which the vet said was good, and if we could get her eating now that her system was running again, we would have a chance.

But, really, Maia was done — only none of us knew it.

On Thursday the 19th, when lots of other people were out seeing Star Wars, Sarah and I stayed in with Maia mainly getting pets on my chest. She wasn’t purring, we realized, for the first time in her life. She still came to get cuddles, but she was still in a way that was eerie on her. And she was starting to stumble a bit as she went to get water or back to her place on the heating pad. Sarah and I went to sleep with the proverbial bad feeling.

In the morning, we knew. Maia barely moved, and when she did, she walked like she was dizzy or disoriented. We called the vet and made an appointment and held her and cried for the hours in between. In the car on the way, she kept wanting to see us both, turning her head and meowing at Sarah until she could position her correctly. We told her what a good and brave girl she was and how much we loved her. By the time we laid her down on the table at the vet, she didn’t even have the strength left to lift herself up.

We let Maia go on Friday, Dec 20th, less than a month shy of her 16th birthday.

(She was obstinate to the end. It took more meds than vets give a 30 pound dog to stop her heart. Neither Sarah nor I were surprised.)

So that’s where I went in December before Christmas.

There’s more to talk about — the things that ended in 2019 and the things that began or will begin in 2020, but that is for next week, I think. Today I just wanted to tell the story of Maia that came to its conclusion.

But don’t worry. Yes, it’s sad, and yes, I still cry sometimes. But the wheel turns, the light gets stronger, and life cycles begin anew.

And we have a new kitten, too.

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New writing project

The blog posts in December will be short (and will dry up in the last couple of weeks) because I’m really trying to focus my creative energy on writing a new novel. It’s original, urban fantasy, but with absolutely no vampires or werewolves. I’m taking a new look at what’s possible, at the monsters in our midst. Vampires and werewolves grew out of historical fears about disease from dead bodies, wolves in the woods, etc. Humans are always afraid of the dark places where danger lurks. A millennia ago, those places were the forests and mountains, deep and dark and filled with risk and the unknown. Now those places are the cracks and corners in our cities, the abandoned buildings, the maintenance shafts, the closed-off areas. So that’s where I’m finding my monsters.

If you have ideas of either a place that’s a crack in the city in which something might lurk, or something odd that might choose to live out of the light of day, get in touch with me. I’m compiling a list.

Or, alternatively, if you have an eye on any place in Minneapolis or St Paul that would be great for a scene, let me know. I’m setting the whole story here in the Twin Cities, so I need more places to play!

I’ve got a playlist for this novel on YouTube, but the true theme that inspired me and keeps me focused is this:

If you want the rest of the playlist, let me know and I’ll send you the link.

In the meantime, welcome to December! Hopefully by the time I welcome you to January, this novel’s initial draft will be finished. That’s the goal.

Let’s see how I do.

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Heroes, Misfits, and Rebels

The Rebel Girls concert went so, so well, and people were in tears at times as we talked about the women and girls who have changed and are changing the world. From Harriet Tubman to Malala, from Abigail Adams to Greta Thunberg, we sang and spoke about women’s courage, women’s choices, women’s actions, and the changes that came from them. Me, too, thinking not only of the figures of history that paved the way for me, but the people in my own life who changed my own little world.

As Ann Reed says in her song “Heroes:”

“One life can tell the tale,
That if you make the effort, you cannot fail.
By your life you tell me it can be done,
By your life’s the courage to carry on.
Heroes appear like a friend
To clear a path or light a flame.
As time goes, you find you depend
On your heroes to show you the way.”

It’s also true that we are what we pretend to be. Want to have more courage, or charisma, or to live boldly? It doesn’t happen because you wish for it — it happens because you pretend for it, and eventually it becomes truth. By the same method, the people we see as our heroes become our blueprint for ourselves. The people we revere, we respect, we cling to, they are the mold we set for ourselves.

All of my heroes are rebels.

As part of a getting-to-know-you exercise with my Operations team, one of the questions I’ve added to our list is “What fictional character(s) best represents you?”

For myself, I have to choose 4. It *just so happens* they align nicely to the elements.

Air = Leonardo of the TMNT. This is where my leadership happens, grounded in the ability to just keep going, to lift the burdens of others, to be first one in and last out, to bleed for the protection of those I call my own. This is the peace of mind I seek, the insight, the stillness of meditation and the reverence for honor. But it’s also the unexpectedness of me being silly after I’ve been staid and solid too long. It’s the ability to see through a situation and find a path home.

Fire = Li Syaoran from Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicles. This is the burning intensity of my ability to dedicate myself to a course of action and follow it to the end, NO MATTER WHAT. This is my loyalty, my devotion, my love. It’s also my courage, burning with the power of a lightning strike, to fight and fight and fight and never let the darkness of doubt win. It’s my ability to accept failure and stand back up and try again. It’s also my ability to take the hardest road, knowing it will hurt, but being willing to defer my own ease for the sake of what lies at the end of the path.

Water = Lacus Clyne from Gundam SEED (Destiny). In utter contrast to the previous, this is where I am soft and warm. This is love and emotion and gentleness and patience. This is the wisdom to know when to listen. But it’s also a steely strength of its own — not to fight, but to endure and resist. To sing the song of peace against the storm. To hold up others in their own battles, providing a safe refuge for them between the fires. To heal what is broken.

Earth = Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel from the MCU. Stubbornness. Not the burning refusal to be defeated as Syaoran, but the part that chuckles at failure and says, “huh, that was cute” and tries again. The ability to grow from something damaged, something incomplete, and embrace what lies within. The confidence to be grounded, steady, with an even temperment in the face of stress and a joke in the face of danger. This is also probably where my own independence streak lives, not doing the work or facing the troubles for someone else or for any high ideal, but because I am Defiance and hear me roar.

They are all rebels and troublemakers, every one of them. Leo, who lives under the honor of his family still lives his own life by his choice, in spite of the human society and enemies that hunt him. Syaoran…well, to avoid spoilers, let’s just say the dude is willing to challenge everything, even the makeup of spacetime itself, if he has to — and he cannot and will not apologize for doing what he must for the person he loves. Lacus is literally a rebel, joining a faction that takes no sides but the side of humanity and peace in the midst of a war and inciting people to follow her. Carol finds that she is on the wrong side of a war and leaps to at the chance to finally free herself from her constraints and claim a new place for herself.

They aren’t my heroes, per se, because my actual heroes are all real flesh-and-blood people who inspire me to live in this world with its rules and find ways to break them. But they are rebels who get to the heart of who I want to be. The rebel I want to be.

I came upon this quote while reading a fanfic sometime in the last couple of weeks, and I emailed it to myself so I would remember to post it at some point:

“Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”
― Rob Siltanen

Now, I know that this is a quote that came out of a marketing meeting and was used to sell Apple products. I know that. But it doesn’t make the point less relevant just because it was invented purely to sell computery things trading on the reputation of a CEO.

Truth is truth wherever you find it, from a fortune cookie to a line scrawled on the sidewalk.

And the truth is? I’m a misfit and a rebel. I have been since I was 3 years old. My earliest memory is from when I was about 4, and I crept away from the backyard into the woods, because I wasn’t supposed to go there, but it was alive and interesting and I wanted to see what the world looked like on the other side of the hill. I can remember being 6 and getting in trouble in kindergarten for not wanting to play house or dolls — I wanted to build a fort under a table and pretend to be a family of dogs taking shelter from the storm.

I’ve never been what anyone wanted of me, and I’ve never done things the way others did. And I’ve never been sorry about it, either.

I’m not sure I’ll ever get the chance to change the world per this quote above, and I’m certainly no genius. I’m not even a hero, and my name won’t ever be sung alongside the names in Ann Reed’s song.

But I’m okay with that.

Sometimes, being a rebel means living quietly in a manner which is solely yours, no one else’s. The world is full of quiet rebels, donating money to causes, marching in protests, playing the game of capitalism, and yet their spirits fight every day from their homes and cars and dreams. To be a rebel doesn’t mean one must be famous to make a difference. And any difference, no matter how small, counts towards the greater whole.

Maybe I’m not the rebel who will push the human race forward. But you better believe I’ll be right beside her starting to walk and backing her up.

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Rebel Girls are Never One Thing

This week is concert week for the TCWC. Which also means I have limited spoons this week and I need to conserve them. So I’m giving myself permission to write a short blog.

This concert’s theme is “Rebel Girls” and all the songs are about powerful women through history and today, from Abigail Adams advocating for women to have the right to vote in the Articles of Confederation to Malala and Greta Thunberg. Encore’s doing “Warrior” about finding the courage to step up and speak, and Elizabeth Alexander’s “What’s Keeping You From Singing?” which is about women helping each other find joy.

Another of the songs is “Never One Thing” by May Erlewine. The choir sings it with a lot of spirit. A lot of the women in the choir have been rebels themselves, and I love seeing them rejoice in owning that power. And I love sharing that feeling of “I will not be pinned down or pigeon-holed” because I am right there with them. There will be a lot of grinning and rocking out on this one.

And, of course, my favorite is the song inspired by the Charlotte Tall Mountain poem I posted not long ago. There isn’t a good video for it, unfortunately. That’s the one that’s going to dig into my heart and set me free.

Plus, we get to sing a version of Ann Reed’s “Heroes” which is just…if you don’t know it, go hear it. Truly. And feel that litany of names and know that every one of them helped build the world brighter for all of us.

Really, this whole concert is about women’s courage, and about Defiance. It is about changing the world, laughing, never backing down. It is about refusing to be defined by expectations and doing the thing that needs doing.

It’s going to be a good one, especially if I can keep from tearing up every other song. Either way, I’m going to be in my element.

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